Posted on

Not Enjoying The Silence

Back in May, a white supremacist touting himself as a Heathen stabbed and killed two young men on a train in Portland, Oregon, when those two young men attempted to protect a pair of Muslim women from the supremacist’s attacks on them.  Members all across the Heathen Community raised their voices in an attempt to educate the rest of the world on what we actually believe and practice, lest we get lumped in with the “bad Heathens”.  I rarely get political, but it was enough to drive me to write a blog post about Declaration 127.

(You can find that blog post here, and Declaration 127 here.)

On August 12, 2017, violence erupted when white nationalists gathered for a “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Ostensibly organized to prevent the removal of yet another remnant of Confederate history–this time, a statue of Robert E. Lee–from a city park, it quickly became apparent that this “march” was more about making history repeat itself, than about defending history so that it doesn’t repeat.  The white nationalists gathered around the site, “defending” it with Viking-styled shields.  Don’t believe me? Check this out:

(You can find that photo here.)

The response of the Heathen community in the wake of what has been described by some as an act of domestic terrorism? Thus far, I’ve seen maybe two posts. And I’m not enjoying the silence….neither is Tyr.

As technically-a-person-of-color (I’m of Asian descent; Chinese, specifically) who happens to be Heathen, and also happens to be spending his afterlife inhabiting a white Southern woman, I find that once again, I cannot keep my mouth shut.  I can’t keep politics off of this blog right now; to do so would go against every fiber of who and what I am. Before I proceed, you might want to thoroughly acquaint yourself with the beginning of that last sentence: I am notwhite guy; repeat: I am notwhite guy. I’m also devoutly Heathen. All set? Okay, that clarification completely out of the way, let’s continue:

As a group of people practicing a Reconstructionist or at least Reconstructionist-derived religion, Heathens, on the whole, are obsessed with history.  We only know what we know about our faith–enough to actually have this faith and have it continue to exist–because of historians, and anthropologists, and archaeologists.  Because we are so needfully well-acquainted with history, most of us are also very well aware of that old adage: 

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. ~Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke was an Irish statesman–a Dubliner, to be precise–as well as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who supported the American Revolution.  It’s a great quote, and growing more and more powerful by the day in our modern age, but the truth is, there are absolutely zero corroborating sources proving that Burke ever actually said or wrote those words.  That he said them first is a tradition.  However, we do know of someone else who absolutely said something quite similar:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~George Santayana

So who the heck was George Santayana?  He was a Spanish philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist who was raised and educated in the United States from the age of eight and identified himself as an American, even though he maintained dual citizenship.  In fact, he spent most of his life not far from where I’m writing this: in Boston, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the very same Revolution that Edmund Burke so firmly supported. 

Why is that so important for this discussion: that Santayana was of Latin/Hispanic descent?  Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you can likely arrive at that answer easily enough.  A person of color, and specifically, an immigrant person of Spanish descent actually said the words that both sides of the present argument are constantly using against each other in the worst ways imaginable. Chew on that for a minute.

Michelle and I both have written numerous posts here and elsewhere in defense of not tearing down Confederate monuments, and not erasing the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage (not hate!), largely based on the argument of Santayana’s famous quote.  We stand by those arguments. However, on the other side of our arguments, which come from a very genuine place of standing behind that aphorism, there are people like those guys with the viking-style shields in Charlottesville, Virginia who are ostensibly defending the same things for the same reasons, but not really.  And they proved that conclusively on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

Because those people wouldn’t “dirty their mouths” with a quote from a Spanish immigrant, if they had actually known that was who said it.  It would be totally valid and “okay” if it had been said by the white guy from Dublin, but, oh my, the shock and disgust if they realized it had been said by a Spanish immigrant! (Who’s mother, by the way, was raised in the Philippines.)

This brief history of quotes (and the juicy irony involved) aside, the fact remains that the initial vision of those white nationalists (before the “real violence” ensued) is an image of a bunch of white, bearded dudes, standing in solidarity, behind a freaking Viking-style shield wall.  The guy who actually drove the car that killed the one person who perished in this “debacle”–who, incidentally, was white, just like the two young men who lost their lives in Portland, Oregon, back in May (not that that should matter, mind you, but the tragic irony should not be lost on anyone, which is why I point it out)–also stood in that initial wall, holding a shield.

(Don’t believe me? Check out this photo. He’s the second from the left, in front of a poster bearing yet more appropriated Heathen symbols, as well as appropriated Christian symbols: the Algiz rune, and a Chi Rho, respectively.)

And yet the Heathen community stands largely silent this time around, and I would really, very dearly, like to know why? So would Tyr.

For that matter, why aren’t Christians screaming about their symbology being appropriated by these asshats?  Because not all Christians are of the conservative, alt-right variety, anymore than all Heathens are of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi variety….

Plenty of people were out there screaming and yelling and having hissy fits back in 2015, when the outcry against the Confederate flag grew so loud that the General Lee, the car driven by the Dukes of Hazard, legit got a makeover, and resulted in the show (still in syndication) getting banned, even though most of its storylines that even touched on race relations in the South involved inclusiveness, rather than bigotry. (Though I never really cared for the show, I can honestly say it was a bit of a “redneck primer” on inclusivity, and I give it kudos for doing that way back in the 1970s.) Yet when it comes to actual religious symbols from whatever faith being bastardized, everybody’s suddenly mute? What gives?

Instead of an outcry on either side of the religious divide over such important matters, the one thing that everybody seems to be able to agree on is crucifying our current president for his statements in the aftermath of Charlottesville 2017.  I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  I try to largely keep my opinions on such things out of this blog, off of our Facebook page, and generally out of my sphere of discussion in general. Trump gets zero frith in my heart or mind, to the point that he’s so utangardh that he basically doesn’t exist to me.  In other words, I put him so “far away from me” that I don’t let his energy touch my own in any capacity. I find that’s healthier for me.  However, while I can understand people’s outrage that he did not single out the white supremacists involved (further proof, most argue, that he’s “in bed” with those people), that’s not the rhetoric being used by most people in opposition to his reaction to decry what he said.  No, what he’s being crucified for is saying that there was wrong on both sides.  Honestly, this is one of the few times in his presidency that he’s actually said something halfway honest or halfway correct.

So how dare I make such a statement?  How could somebody–anybody–who is against racism and patently against Trump himself deign to say such a thing?  Because we’re living in a world where everybody so desperately wants their side to be right that they’re willing to invoke violence to prove it, no matter how wrong they actually are, and even an imbecile like Trump can see it!

Don’t get it twisted: I am in no way, shape, form or fashion attempting to defend Trump in all this. What I am saying is that if what he actually meant in his statements is that “two wrongs never make a right“, then for one, brief shining moment in his presidency, he’s actually been right about something!  And we should probably all take a moment to bask in the shock of that, before moving on toward cohesion.

Because I don’t know if anybody else has recognized this yet, but our country hasn’t had anything remotely resembling cohesion, when it comes to racial relations, since seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin fell to gunfire on a rainy February day in Florida in 2012.  That was during the Obama administration, folks–long before Trump was even a glimmer in the eye of the American conservative right-wing; back when he was just some orange-haired loudmouth whose primary vocabulary consisted of the words “You’re fired!”.  That was when we actually had a president of color!  That was the tragic death that began both the “Black Lives Matter” and the “Thin Blue Line” movements, and yet, forgotten by most people in the ensuing violence, raging arguments on both sides, and subsequent hate crimes, the dude who actually shot Trayvon Martin was also a person of color, and patently not a cop:  George Zimmerman is a man of Hispanic descent (specifically, Peruvian) who worked as an insurance fraud investigator while working towards an associate degree in criminal justice.  Zimmerman shot Martin while “serving” as the head of the local Neighborhood Watch program: he thought Trayvon “looked suspicious”, pursued the young man, and subsequently shot him.

What color the people involved in a situation–any situation–are ultimately does not matter when innocent lives are being lost. The symbols of my faith and your faith ultimately do not matter when innocent lives are being lost, either.  What ultimately matters is that we are all one family–the human race–and when we lose even one member of that family, we all lose.  There are no sides in that; there shouldn’t be any sides at all!  When someone dies innocently, everybody loses. Period.

If people are going to be building shield-walls around anything–any ideology–it should be that one!  Yet, that isn’t the case, unfortunately.  In fact, in most circles nowadays, if you have the cajones to say the words “all lives matter“, you’re instantly labeled as part of the racist scum! How the hell does that work out?

I became Heathen because faith, folk, and family was an ideal I could get behind: because, for me, treating other people honorably and fairly is the very crux of my faith, and the entire human race is both my folk and my family.  Very quickly, I discovered this was patently not what these words represented to most other Heathens, thanks to the bastardization of that phrase by the white supremacists among us.  To that subset, faith means guarding (white) folk and their (white) family from any outside forces seeking to “muddy” those waters with “other colored blood”.  Gobsmacked really is too small a word to describe how I felt upon said discovery.  I came to this Path because the core of it–that phrase, now bastardized–represented everything to me that I have believed my entire life, and now I am left with the astonishing realization that, like that famous quote from The Princess Bride, that phrase “does not mean what I think it means”.  

And maybe that’s the main reason why people are so gods-damned silent in the wake of Charlottesville 2017, even when the bastardization of the symbols of our faith are so morbidly less hidden in this “debacle”, than they were in the crime committed against those two young men (and the Muslim women they were trying to defend) in Portland, Oregon, three months ago.  Maybe it’s because the very foundation of our faith has become rocky ground on which to stand.  Or maybe it’s because there are far too many would-be Vikings among us, and not enough faithfilled people.  That “us versus them” sentiment was the very thing on which the Viking mindset rested, wasn’t it? I mean, after all? We see the thirst for it–that “us versus them” mentality–every time a member of our community says foul things about “those Christians”, lumping every follower of Christ in with the conservative crap-eaters; every time a member of our community talks about the Christian “weak god” or “dead god”; every time a member of our community types the letters UPG with hate and disdain as an expression of how “non-historically-accurate” true experiences of living faith are or possibly can be. It’s hard to cry out against people taking sides–no matter what those sides might be–when you’re a community divided in upon itself because people are so damned busy creating sides to take!

As a Chinese-American dead guy inhabiting a white Southern woman, I am quickly reaching a point where I am honestly afraid to wear my Thor’s Hammer in public or proudly show off any of the other symbols of my Heathen faith–runes included.  I’m afraid that people will “get the wrong impression” and label me as a racist. I am just as afraid, at this point, of the “inclusivity-championing liberals” as many Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans are of certain factions of the conservative right-wing.  And it patently should not be that way for either side of the equation! Yet, here we are.  And silence by our community in the wake of Charlottesville 2017 only serves to perpetuate that climate of fear.

So I will not join in that silence!

My faith is in a Deity(s) Who looks down upon this human race and sees, without doubt, and for once and for all, that we are all the same family.  My folk are those who will stand with me, against injustice: whether that injustice is due to race, creed, gender, or any other “dividing” factor.  And my family is the human race.  As Bruce Lee once said:

“Under the sky, under the heavens, Man, there is but one family.”

And I raise my own shield, not to defend some statue wrought by human hands in another time or place, or even some distant history which is too easily revised to suit the current political climate, but instead to defend that Truth which has always been with us:

We all matter.  Every man and woman is someone else’s mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, child. And every mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, and child matters.

We will never enjoy true peace until we realize this. Hate will continue to grow, no matter how bright and shining the motives of those who decide to take the side of the Right and the Just.  Until everyone is on that same side–so long as sides remain–we’re all living in No Man’s Land. And No Man’s Land is the place of stalemates, not victory.

 

 

 

Posted on

Rock Aching Against Water

Original art and blessing by Connla Freyjason; Thrud from a previous render by Daniel P. for Iaconagraphy (Thrud image only available at Red Bubble by clicking this image; opens in new tab)

I have spent most of my life attempting to emulate the famous Bruce Lee quote “Be water, my friend”, but for the past two weeks, I’ve felt more like the rock than the water: rock aching against water.  Most of you already know that we’re in the midst of selling our home and attempting to find and buy a new one, and I’ve said before: moving is hard.  As we go deeper and deeper down this tangled path, however, I’m discovering more and more every day that those three words are really too mild of a statement for precisely how difficult this entire scenario actually is.  “Be water, my friend” went flying out the window, leaving nary a feather behind, somewhere around June 11th, and it’s been all uphill from there!

For a moment, let’s talk about what that quote means, before we talk about its opposite.  In full, Bruce Lee said:

“Don’t get set into one form; adapt it, and build your own, and let it grow, be like water.  Empty your mind; be formless; shapeless–like water.  Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup.  You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.  You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.  Now, water can flow, or it can crash.  Be water, my friend.”

Basically, what this means it that you shouldn’t get locked into patterns; that you should basically learn to “roll with the punches”, and somehow keep landing on your feet.  It requires being mindful of your environment and surrounding situations to the point that you can easily “change your shape” to fit that environment and those situations–the way water becomes a cup, or a bottle, or a teapot.  It implies that you are adaptable; that you can take virtually any situation and “make it your own”; take command of it; know when to flow, and when to crash. Ultimately, “being like water” means being completely open to the fact that there are infinite possibilities open to us; it means being hard and soft at the same time; it means accepting the possibilities of success and failure equally. It is to believe that anything can happen, and that it actually might.  From a Heathen perspective, it means being comfortable with the ebb and flow of Wyrd, rather than afraid of that ebb and flow.  When we close ourselves off to all of that, we remove any chance for a sense of accomplishment, relegating ourselves to a constant state of feeling stymied, trapped, out of control, and basically doomed.  

And that is where being the rock, instead of the water, comes into this discussion.  Rocks don’t typically move.  They are static entities; their shape is their shape, and they aren’t exactly legendary for adapting.  Instead of adapting, they break and erode.  Generally, with a rock, “what you see is what you get”, which is why we have phrases like “written in stone” and “set in stone” to denote things that are unchangeable or immutable.  Rather than changing its environment, a rock is changed by its environment: moss grows, or the rock is broken apart by rushing water, or eroded into sand.  “Rock people” (as opposed to “water people”) see Wyrd as something which is likewise set in stone, and they live in an environment of fearing that Wyrd.  It is a life of feeling as though something unknown is constantly impending, and almost every creature alive fears the unknown.

Up until June 11th, I was doing a fairly decent job of “being water”, instead of “being rock”, with this whole home-selling-home-buying scenario.  I had dutifully packed up most of my office without batting an eye, looking upon the whole affair as the first key to a new future in our lives together. I was, in fact, actually excited about the whole thing.  I had begun shopping around online for potential new home prospects, and we had already toured a few open houses. I began embracing the whole concept of “mobile home living” and the “mobile home lifestyle”, which honestly tugged at my California-born heartstrings in ways that I couldn’t even begin to readily describe to my partner or anyone else.  I began feverishly creating home-plans (complete with decor motifs and furniture placement) at Roomstyler, and researching everything I could find on home makeovers (including fantastic accent wall treatments).  I resolved that I was going to become the “ultimate house husband” upon moving to our new locale, complete with all that such entails, right down to making sure dinner was on the table promptly at 5:30 every day when my Beloved gets home.  And I was super excited about all of that.  Wyrd would take us where we needed to be, and I had ultimate faith in the Gods in bringing us there.  So what changed?  How did I suddenly go from “water” to “rock”?

Prepping for our first open house, on the heels of our favorite future home prospect being pulled from the market, while suffering from the worst outbreak of pustular psoriasis we have ever endured started my downhill slide.  Still, I tried to remain hopeful, as we went that Wednesday to tour two other home prospects, the first of which we were both absolutely in love with.  Cat-in-tow, we went to tour two properties, both of which had promise, and I immediately came home and sat down the very next day and started plugging in our furniture and coming up with decorating motifs via Roomstyler.  Yes, I was terrified about where my health was taking me, but I kept reminding myself that soon our lifestyle would be way more laid back, and that somewhat helped me through. I continued to pray nightly (as I always do), even as I put my job on hold because I couldn’t write or even make art through the fever and the itching and the fear.  I tried to keep my chin up, and wade through the itching, the pain, and the knowledge that this could be the outbreak that ended both me and Michelle, and remain hopeful. I tried to stay water, my friends.

On the 22nd, that prospect we were in love with sold to another buyer.  I tried not to let that get me down, as my health was improving (however slightly), and instead focus on the other prospect we had toured.  The more of our furniture I crammed into the houseplan of it on Roomstyler, the more cramped it became, but I found “work arounds”, and kept plugging away.  “It’ll just be cozy”, I reminded myself and my partner; “and we love cozy, right?”  Meanwhile, we scheduled two more open houses, and I watched my Beloved work her tail off while I had to sit humbly by and try to “pray away the pain”.  I began to feel guilty that I couldn’t do as much as I had done around the house previously and internally beat myself up about that fact.  I began to pine for another property we had found that is totally our dreamhouse, but also totally un-financeable.  I began to hear the Princess Leia quote from Star Wars: A New Hope replayed over and over again inside my head, only with a real estate theme: “The more you tighten your grip, the more mobile homes will slip through your fingers”.  Except our “grip” didn’t feel tight at all; instead, it felt more and more like “one hand clapping”: an appendage constantly reaching out for what it wants, yet only grasping air. My downward spiral from “water” into “rock” had officially begun.

I am officially breakingeroding, and turning into sand.  Where once I sat out in the swing to watch the bunnies and the birds, and it would bring me peace, now I sit out in the swing and watch the bunnies and the birds to hide my tears.  What will life be like in a place where I can no longer hear the coyotes sing?  All I want to be able to do is look out my window and see a tree, and it doesn’t even have be my tree; it just needs to be a tree!  All the while I am constantly reminded that I am a financial disaster, living on the good graces of the people who love me, and cannot help with anything whatsoever except maybe a little housework here and there, and right now, I’m not even fully able to do that.  I feel like a piece of dandelion fluff blown on the wind; some magical thing, perhaps, to the eye of a child, but when it’s all said and done, wherever I come to land I will grow into a weed.  And weeds are a nuisance; they leech all of the good away.  My nightly prayers have begun to feel like something I say by rote.  Where once there was faith behind those words, now that faith has been replaced with a very definite desperation.  I still sing galdr, yet each time I do so, I am reminded of the two homes previously that I have tried to “galdr into existence” for us that have gone to other buyers, even as our own prospects grow ever more slim. I am spiraling ever deeper into a pit of despair, and I’m having a very hard time finding a way to climb back out of it. No longer caught up in the ebb and flow of Wyrd, it has instead become a wave which I fear will drown us all.  

This morning, I pulled Uruz for my daily rune-draw.  I do this every morning, asking the Gods to tell me Their intentions for me this day: how should I live; what should I do; to what should I put my energy?  Immediately, the blessing for Thrud which I had been led to create weeks ago popped into my mind, and most especially the line: As rock as it aches against water.  We don’t tend to think of the pain the rock endures, as it is broken apart by rushing water, until that moment when we have become that stone.  As Heathens, the words “the strength of mountains” sound like a fantastic thing to have; like something for which to actively strive.  That’s all well and good until one is actually asked to endure; then and only then does one realize just how tough it must be to be a mountain!  

So how does one go from being “rock” back to being “water”?  

Flip that switch in four steps:

  • Restore hope via gratitude.
  • Give yourself permission to believe in miracles; in infinite possibilities.
  • Define your ultimate possibility.
  • Ultimately believe in your ultimate possibility.

The first step is the restoration of hope.  That’s the “thing” I lost a good grasp on, starting around June 11th, and then pretty much totally on the 22nd.  As this proverbial stone has continued rolling downhill like an avalanche, things have come to feel more and more hopeless. And, as in that famous quote from the TV series Lost, “hope is a dangerous thing to lose“.  Perhaps the easiest way to flip our brains from a “doom cycle” back to a “hope cycle” is via gratitude.  Being grateful for the things around us provides the rational mind–that part of the brain that tends to be the “doomsayer” in the first place–with evidence that good things can and do, in fact, happen after all.  I end every day, no matter how shitty, with a litany of gratitude to the Gods for every single good thing that happened throughout that day, no matter how small: everything from “thank you for that heron that flew by my window this afternoon at two o’clock” to “thank you for time with my Beloved and Kili”.  So, clearly, I have a relatively decent “gratitude system” already in place, yet here I am still: a rock, instead of water.

Restoring hope should begin to pave the way for a restoration of the belief in infinite possibilities.  In other words, giving oneself permission to honestly believe in miracles.  Two weeks ago, I wholeheartedly did; now, notsomuch.  I believe that was the true turning point for me, with going from water to rock.  One can only be told so many times that something is impossible before one actually gets with the program and realizes that something is, in fact, impossible. And once we reach that point, miracles cease being a possibility.  The permission to believe in them is officially revoked.  Author Marianne Williamson, famous for her books on alternative spirituality, including A Course In Miracles, has this to say about giving oneself permission to believe in miracles:

“A miracle is a shift in perception from fear to love–from a belief in what is not real, to faith in that which is.  That shift in perception changes everything.”

Breaking that down from a strictly Heathen perspective, believing in miracles means understanding, accepting, and (most importantly) allowing the concept that all of those infinite possibilities–all of those miracles–are not utangard, but instead, innangard.  In other words, miracles aren’t something that happen to someone else out there in the big somewhere elsebut are instead right there, waiting for us, within our own circle of influence.  We fear what is outside our circle of influence, while we love what is inside our circle of influence.  When all of those infinite possibilities becomes things which are outside of that circle of influence–when we have that “one hand clapping” feeling that I described earlier, which makes us feel very out of control–we come to fear those possibilities, rather than love them.  The further we push possibility away from us, the more we come to fear it, and the more out of control we subsequently feel.  

So the third step is to define your ultimate possibility.  Your ultimate possibility should be the best possible outcome, based on the good things already being detailed by your personal “gratitude system“.  By basing the ultimate possibility on things which are already happening within our present circle of influence, all of those infinite possibilities become innangard, rather than utangard. My ultimate possibility, therefore, would be an attainable home that is sustainable by me, even given all of our health issues, which will require me to show off my interior design skills in effectively homemaking, because that is the “part of this bargain” which is actually within my circle of influence.  I cannot buy us a house; I can’t make that happen.  But I can make it a home. I cannot control whether or not there are trees in our yard-to-come, but I can learn to garden and grow things inside as well as outside. Home-buying is outside my circle of influence; it is utangardHomemaking, however, is something at which I excel–something I have always longed for the opportunity to actually do–and is therefore inside; it is innangard.

The final step, then, is to believe ultimately in that ultimate possibility.  Believing ultimately means that you put your heart and soul (all four parts of it!) into making that ultimate possibility an ultimate reality.  In my case, that means that rather than pinning all my hopes and dreams on this specific property, or that one, I instead put all of that energy into learning and preparing to do all of the things that are congruent with my ultimate possibility.  For example, if I want to be able to look out my window and see a tree, I need to start learning how to either plant one, paint one, or otherwise create one, rather than sitting around crying and moaning about “please, Gods, give me a tree!”  If I’m so obsessed with having “a room with a view”, instead of pinning everything on a specific property that has that view (which could just as easily slip away as not), I need to be developing creative ways to make a room have a view.

Ultimately, Wyrd is neither shaped for us nor set in stone: it ebbs and flows and changes with our every breath and our ever-changing attitudes.  When we trap ourselves in a cycle of hopelessness, then that becomes our Wyrd.  Instead of running like rabbits from shadows in the dark–from those things which are outside our circle of influence–we must come to realize that such behavior simply calls our worst fears to us.  By living our lives that way, we are literally bringing the worst possible Wyrd into existence.  Instead, we must focus on those things which we can control–those things which are inside our circle of influence–and take charge of those things.  Be grateful for them, and then do something with them and about them.  Even if it requires the strength of mountains; even if it hurts, like rock aching against water. 

Posted on

The Death of Trans-Cultural Diffusion

Original digital painting of Bruce Lee by Connla Freyjason, featured within an artist journaling page, also by Connla, 2017.

Under the sky, under the heavens, there is but one family. ~Bruce Lee

I’m writing this today because something recently occurred in a Facebook Group to which we belong that deeply disturbed not only me, but also Michelle, and even my Beloved, Suzanne.  I don’t often like to bring things like this into the blog, but I think this is a topic which is reaching such epidemic proportions that it desperately needs to be addressed.  As the CEO of a business which promotes multiculturalism, this needs to be addressed before someone comes at us, the way they’ve come at the CEO who runs said Facebook Group.

Face it: we’re living in a society full of people who are absolutely desperate to be offended by something.  Which is odd, considering that there are plenty of things to be offended by in our modern world, without having to actively look for something petty to be offended by!  Most of these folks who are so eager to be offended run about chanting big words like cultural appropriationcultural misappropriation, and politically correct, while at the same time casting themselves as supposed champions of multiculturalism. Yet, oddly, none of them seem to know what any of these words/phrases actually mean! So, before I start the storytelling portion of this blog post, let’s get those definitions out of the way:

Cultural Appropriation: (sometimes abbreviated CA)  The adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.  Can include using other cultures’ traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and cultural songs without permission.  

Cultural Misappropriation: The adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture in violation of the intellectual property rights of the original culture.  Differs from acculturationassimilation, or cultural exchange in that the “appropriation” or “misappropriation” refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context–sometimes against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

Politically Correct: (sometimes abbreviated PC) Language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society; conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of gender or race) should be eliminated.

Multiculturalism:  The existence of multiple culture traditions within a single community, usually considered in terms of the culture associated with an aboriginal or indigenous ethnic group and foreign ethnic groups.  Multicultural ideologies and policies vary widely, ranging from advocacy of equal respect to the various cultures in a society, to policies of promoting the maintenance of cultural diversity, to policies in which people of various ethnic and religious groups are addressed by the authorities as defined by the group to which they belong.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that there are other terms in bold within those definitions? Let’s define those while we’re at it, plus one: Trans-cultural Diffusion:

Intellectual Property and Intellectual Property Rights: (sometimes abbreviated as IP)  Intellectual property refers to creations of the intellect for which a monopoly is assigned to designated owners by law.  Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the protections granted to the creators of IP, and include trademarks, copyright, patents, industrial design rights, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets. Artistic works, including music and literature, as well as discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs can be protected as intellectual property.  The purpose of IPR is to “promote progress”:  by exchanging limited exclusive rights for disclosure of inventions and creative works, society and the patent/copyright owner mutually benefit, and an incentive is created for inventors and authors/artists to create and disclose their work.

Acculturation:  The process of cultural change and psychological change that results following the meeting of two different cultures. Acculturation is a direct change of one’s culture through dominance over another’s culture through either military or political conquest (in other words, via colonialism).

Assimilation:  The process by which a person or a group’s language and/or culture come to resemble those of another group.  The term is used to refer to both individuals and groups, and in the latter case can refer to either immigrant diasporas or native residents that come to be culturally dominated by another society (again, colonialism).

Cultural Exchange:  An exchange of students, artists, athletes, etc. between two distinct cultures to promote mutual understanding.

Colonialism and “colonial manner”:  The establishment of a community in one territory by a political power from a different territory, and the subsequent maintenance, expansion, and exploitation of that colony.  Also used as a term to describe an unequal relationship between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and displaced indigenous or aboriginal people. (Note: given the definitions of acculturation and assimilation above, hopefully the problem with the sentence “Cultural misappropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation….in that the appropriation or misappropriation refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner” becomes self-evident…..)

Cultural Diversity:  The existence of a variety of cultural or ethnic groups within a society.  The quality of diverse or different cultures, as opposed to monoculture, the global culture, or a homogenization of cultures, akin to cultural decay.  Can also refer to having different cultures respect each other’s differences.

Trans-Cultural Diffusion:  The spread of cultural items–such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies, languages, etc.–between individuals, whether within a single culture or from one culture to another, usually resulting in innovation and the betterment of all societies/cultures involved.

 

Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way so that we’re all on the same page, the story (without too many details) of what sparked all of this:

We belong(ed) to a group based off of a series of books that promote organizing your life and your business in a spiritual way, with an emphasis on muticulturalism (we thought) and “sisterhood” (or, in my case, at the very least community).  Yesterday, someone came into the group criticizing the author for her use of cultural appropriation on several pages of these books, specifically when urging readers to explore the creation of mandalas (Hindu/Buddhist), seeking spirit animals (which they felt was a specifically Native American practice), participating in shamanic drumming (which they also felt was a specifically Native American practice), and exploring yoga (East Indian) as a practice.  Others then joined in the discussion, adding criticism of the author’s use of images of women of color in her artwork (said author is Caucasian) and dreamcatchers (Native American; specifically Ojibwe, later adopted by other Native Peoples, including the Lakota).  My immediate response was to roll my eyes and mutter privately under my breath that if this same author had only included images of other Caucasians throughout her work and had only suggested “suitably White activities,” they would all be decrying her as a racist instead.  She literally could not win, either way.

The other big issue with these people’s allegations is that they attributed at least two of the things on the list to cultures which patently haven’t “cornered the market” on the things in question: neither spirit animals nor shamanic drumming are exclusively Native American.  In fact, the word shamanic isn’t even of Native American origin–the word shaman is actually from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia (i.e., Siberia)!  Shamanic drumming actually co-originates in the Native American culture, Aboriginal Australian culture, Mongolian culture, and Saami culture (the indigenous people of Scandinavia), as well as many other tribal cultures with systems of religion which focus on trancework and religious ecstasy.  The use of spirit animals likewise covers all of these shamanic cultures, as well as many others wherein animism is practiced. The other two major things at issue–the creation of mandalas and the practice of yoga–are actually associated with world religions: specifically, Hinduism and Buddhism.  Last time I checked, religions are open to people of all cultural persuasions and racial backgrounds, and when that isn’t the case, things like the need for Declaration 127  in Heathenry happen.

Apparently all of these people are operating on the same misguided notion as most of their compatriots who scream “that’s not politically correct, that’s cultural mis/appropriation!” every chance that they get: that a culture can or even should hold intellectual property rights on those things which are uniquely representative of that specific culture.  Rather than make a summary proclamation on whether or not I actually feel that that should or should not “be a thing”, let’s take a look at what our world would be like if it actually were…..

The year is 1271.  A seventeen year old Venetian sets off for Asia on a series of adventures with his uncle.  They spend 24 years, traveling along the Silk Road to Mongolia.  While on those travels, he refuses to write anything down, because he fears being accused of cultural misappropriation.  He returns home, and centuries later, people all across Europe continue to pay for their goods either via the barter system or with bags of gold. Paper money is never invented in Europe.  Eyeglasses are also never invented in the West.  People continue to send mail via carrier pigeon, because the postal system, which already existed in Mongolia, is never introduced in the West.  The Industrial Revolution happens in Asia, rather than in the West, because coal is never introduced as a primary fuel source in the West.  North America and South America exist only as small colonies of Scandinavia and the Irish because none of the other explorers ever go there, because they do not have the inspiration of Marco Polo to spur them forward.

The year is 1954.  “Race music” emerges, consisting of influences from African oral storytelling, heavy rhythmic influences, and call and response song styles.  Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, and Gospel music never develop, because America’s “black population” fears cultural misappropriation: they do not want to participate in the same level of colonialism as their Caucasian oppressors.  Rock and roll and Rockabilly also never happen. Country Music as we know it today never happens.  Elvis Presley never happens. Western culture remains segregated by race. 

The year is 1959.  A Chinese-German immigrant from Hong Kong who is a senior at Edison Technical School in Seattle begins teaching non-Asians the martial arts.  He does so for five years, dropping out of college in 1964 and moving to Oakland, California, where he continues to practice his reverse-colonialism and subversive reverse cultural appropriation of teaching Asian fighting styles to non-Asians.  He draws the line, however, at adopting from other Asian forms or even from the fighting styles of other cultures, making sure to keep his style–the style he is teaching to non-Asians, remember–distinctly Chinese Gung Fu in the Wing Chun style.  When invited to attend a Karate Championship hosted in Long Beach in that year, he refuses the invitation.  When approached by one of the foremost authorities on the Korean fighting style of Taekwondo, he refuses to take the call.  Finally, in outrage, the Chinese community issues a challenge: stop teaching Asian fighting styles to non-Asians. He complies.  Bruce Lee never happens. The entire genre of martial arts action films never happens. Some of the greatest philosophy ever written never happens.

This is the sort of world we are destined to live in if we cling to the battle-cry of being “politically correct” and not practicing “cultural misappropriation”.  What myself and others, including that poor author whose group we just left, are trying to promote is multiculturalism via trans-cultural diffusion, a phenomenon which has existed since humans first began having contact with other humans.  Trans-cultural diffusion gave us many of the things which we consider necessities in life: paper money, technology (via the Industrial Revolution), integration, and the global community that we live in today.  It also gave us many things which it would be very hard for us to imagine living without: martial arts films, rock and roll, pasta, and even Chinese takeaway.  When we scream for intellectual property rights to be applied to cultural heritage, we are likewise begging to rob our children and future generations of innovation! So take a few minutes to roll that around in your brain.  Are you so selfish, whatever your cultural heritage might be, that you don’t want future generations to benefit from having known that culture? Shall we stop growing, as a global culture, simply because these few people fear being offended or offending someone else?