The Spirit of Poverty

April 14, 2015 — 27 Comments

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_-_St_Francis_-_WGA26075

Poverty of Body

The virtues of the poor may be readily admitted, and are much to be regretted. We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so.
–Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

I was recently in a discussion regarding Compassion, within a class addressing the difficulties one incurs upon becoming ‘public,’ considered, by no necessary fault of your own, a ‘leader.’ The question posed was rather simple–“what challenges most your Compassion?” and I laughed, as I’d been thinking about this matter for weeks.

My answer?

“Holding the hands of middle-class people, coddling them, softening my words and critiques in order to ease them oh-so-gently into an understanding that the homeless person screaming profanities at them is suffering from the same system that makes them middle-class.”

Do forgive me here–there’s a bit of anger in those words, but not nearly the seething rage warranted in such discussions.  In fact, that’s me being really polite about how I’ve felt lately, trying to talk to Pagans about Capitalism.

I’m stealing a bit of time from work as I write this, work where I ‘counsel’ people who’ve been homeless for more years than I’ve been an adult, people suffering from mental-illness and chemical dependency and worse, years of becoming socialized as less-than-human in societies which refuse to look at their own shit.

I’m sometimes tempted to ask some of them what they think about Capitalism or money-in-religion or whether pouring money into legislative campaigns to protect the environment is the best way to stop Climate Change, but this is outside of my job description and anyway, I wouldn’t be able to quote them.

The question I’d love to ask most though right now, the question burning on my lips that I think they’d be most able to answer is inspired by a post I saw today.  That question?  Would a material change or a spiritual change better improve your circumstances and your life on this earth?

Years on the street rather damaged these folk; lack of resources, no housing, long months and years without healthy food and access to medical care, unstable social groups, vulnerability to disease, rape, exploitation, rough cops and asshole business owners would probably skew their answers.

Similarly, though–what about those living in favelas and ghettos and shanty-towns across the world?  I wonder which they might favor; spiritual transformation as the way to save the world, or maybe a little more to eat?

I’d prefer not to speak for the poor, as my income is about 30 times what an average Haitian makes per year.  They make about $800, this year I’ll make about $25,000.

That number, by the way, is something we don’t talk much about.  In America particularly, the income of others is a verboten topic.  It’s impolite to talk about how much you make, and definitely impolite to ask someone how much they make.  If you’re on the upper scales of income, it might cause envy or competition amongst your friends who make less.  If you’re on the lower end, it becomes an embarrassment.

But there it is.  $25,000 before taxes. 40% of the ‘median income’ of Seattle, where rents for one-bedrooms start at about $1000 (average price in my neighborhood is $1500–needless to say, I don’t live alone).

Last year, by the way, I made about half of this, including the donations I received through my blog and from people who helped me attend last year’s Polytheist Leadership Conference and my pilgrimage to Newgrange.  (Thank you all, again).

I confess my income here for a couple of reasons.  One, it’s quite relieving to admit it in a public forum.  When you earn less than many of your friends and colleagues, you sort of do a lot of pretending that you can afford stuff because it’s expected of you.

Two, some people think I’m poorer than I am–street punks particularly mistake me often for ‘one of them.’  Probably because I wear torn cloths (I can’t afford to own more than a couple of sets of clothing), talk like them (it’s a bourgeois rule that we shouldn’t say ‘fuck), and hell, I talk to them like they’re human, because they are.  I’m not afraid of them, I hang out with them, and hell–I used to sleep out there with them.

Another thing you should know about me is that I grew up in poverty.

Wait, though–many of us say that, because wealth often appears relative.  My friends who make $50,000 a year feel poor in Seattle (which should make me ‘twice-as-poor’, but it doesn’t work that way), so it’s better to explain the circumstances of my upbringing rather than just say ‘I was poor.’

I was born in the foothills of Appalachia in south-east Ohio.  I mentioned this elsewhere–we lived 6 miles away from a leaking nuclear power plant which caused both my papaw (grandfather) and uncle to die of massive brain tumors.  We lived in a draughty A-frame house owned by a relative with an open sewer.  We had a van on cinder-blocks which we used as a storage shed.  My father had no work most of the time; he sometimes siphoned gas out of other people’s cars in order to go look for work or drive the 30 miles ‘into town’ for our once-a-month grocery store trip with paper-food stamps.  Most of our food, however, got delivered by a truck once a week, brown non-descript boxes of ‘government cheese’ and white boxes of powdered-milk and bags of enriched rice.

That’s how we ate.  We were basically vegetarian except at the first of the month when we had discounted ground-beef or when someone poached a deer or a wild turkey.

In the winter, we burned wood that my father cut down off of his mother’s land when he could afford the gasoline for the chainsaw.  But much of that land had already been stripped and she didn’t want us cutting down all the trees (who could blame her), so we applied for heating assistance for the state.  Usually they brought wood; two years they brought coal.

Those years were horrible, because coal leaves everything in your house black, and isn’t supposed to be burned in a wood-stove anyway, you and your little sisters and your developmentally-disabled mother and your out-of-work father all cramped in a house with an open sewer outside, a massive hole in the bathroom floor no one could afford to fix (we stepped over particle-board to shit, but that broke and one of us fell through, but only down to the dirt foundation of the house, about three feet).  It was so fucking cold in that bathroom with wind coming through that open floor and we couldn’t take a bath in the winter because of it, but we were lucky because we at least had running water.

That’s what I mean by poor.  I wore the same underwear from the time I was 7 until I was 12 despite the fact that I’d grown significantly from that time, because underwear was a luxury we couldn’t afford.  So was healthcare and the dentist.  You ever see my teeth?  You most likely won’t.  Go back through every photo you’ve seen of me online and try to find depictions of them.

I’ll give you a few minutes there.

I’ll tell you one more thing about that time, or actually something that I recently learned from that time.  It came when my siblings and I were talking about what we remembered from our childhood.  One of them said (and I started crying), “all I remember is how hungry we always were.”  One of them still sets aside a portion of her meal, even as she’s much older and much better off than we’d ever been in those days, just in case there’s nothing to eat later, because we never knew if there would be and there often wasn’t. Not eating everything at a meal meant that when hunger hit you later you at least had something.

My reaction was different.  When I finally had access to food, I over-ate.  I was a huge adolescent, 280 pounds at 17 because I was working and could finally afford to eat.  And I did–like fucking mad, making up for a childhood of absence, of hunger.

It took years to teach my body that I wasn’t going to starve again, to train myself not to stuff as much food into my stomach as I could fit (and then some), to undo decades of fear that I’d have to go long weeks of powdered milk and government-supplied rice.

That’s what I mean by poverty.

Poverty of Spirit

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. …All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
–Marx and Engles, The Communist Manifesto

Someone asked me why I’m always so angry even when I’m doing so ‘well.’  Another person suggested I had a ‘dark shadow’ looming over me which made me approach others in rage rather than ‘compassion.’  Yet a third questioned why my critiques of Capitalism were out of line ‘with love’ and instead seemed to come from a spirit of criticism, using ‘hurtful’ words instead of ‘helpfully building community.’

But whose community? Whose idea of ‘well?  Whose idea of love?

Since becoming ‘public’ or even an inadvertent ‘leader’ (by which I suspect we really mean antagonist) in Pagan spaces, I’ve met some rather incredible people, full of magic and beauty and love for the world.  Most of ’em have been as poor as me, at least for some part of their life.  They’re usually the ones you’ll find protesting another death, or building a homeless camp, or fundraising for poor people, or building mutual-aid networks, or offering free teaching, or being so fucking busy helping people they’ll never have money.

I’ve met some others, unfortunately.  Most of them are called ‘leaders’ too, often of entire traditions, or occupying mediated spaces of public voice regardless of what they know.  A lot of them have money and are eager to make more, eager to sell you things, or sell you ways to make money, or gain power, or sell you secrets the gods and spirits and dead will teach you for free.

And some of those people write things about what we all ‘need’ to do.  We need more love and compassion and hope and magic.  Some of ’em will tell you that ‘poor magicians are poor magicians’ (that is, a witch who’s poor isn’t a very good witch).  Some of them will awkwardly hold lopsided print-outs that say ‘White privilege exists’ because someone else coerces them into it.  Some of them run courses where you can learn to better bring wealth into your personal sphere, or will write sage pieces about how we all need to live in more compassion with the earth and the animals and trees, or how to attain peace and unity with the divine.

But I will tell you this–if they aren’t poor but are telling you how to be more ‘compassionate’ and ‘magical’ or how to build a ‘Pagan Future’ or stop climate change, they don’t know what they’re fucking talking about.

Have a statistic:

“people in the U.S. who earned more than $75,000 emitted nearly four times as much C02 as those who earned less than $10,000.”

See that?  I could march those out like an army of the dead from the Cauldron of Annwn if you like.  Here’s another one, though:

A single average US citizen emits more than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi.

You see why American Pagans suggesting a ‘change of spirit’ or ‘more compassion’ or ‘loving the goddess’ seems a bit false?

It’s because Capitalism is the problem, and so are we, if we don’t fight it. 

I say ‘we’ all the time, but I’m on the low-end of that collective ‘we.’  Let’s be clear on that–I barely even belong in the white Pagan spaces I enter, nor in the discourses where we talk about what to do about this.  Though I happen to appear to be a college-educated middle-class white male (that’s what privilege does, folks), I’d actually belong with the broken-teethed trailer-dwelling backwoods racist white guy railing about how Odin’s just for white guys–I’m in their income bracket

And do not be mistaken–the same Capitalist system that kills black men every 28 hours in America drives the poor white man into the arms of racialist ideologues and is the exact same Capitalism that is destroying the earth.

In the piece that inspired this post, John Halstead suggests that Alley Valkyrie (and by extension, Marx) gets things wrong about what needs to be done to fix our mess:

“So, I agree with Alley that working toward a shift in consciousness is not sufficient by itself.  But likewise, neither do I believe that changing our economic system will be sufficient by itself.”

Look.  I’ve been known in the past to take issue with John’s writing, but he’s actually on to something that he may not realise he’s on to.

His reading of Marx is quite wrong, but he admits, too, that he’s oversimplifying.   And I hope the irony’s not lost on anyone that a Polytheist is arguing for the primacy of the material against a Humanist urging a spiritual shift.  Maybe it’s because I interact with a myriad of gods and spirits that I’m hyper-aware of how fucked up our economic system is–the gods don’t deal in coins and wealth and wages, yet humans unfortunately do.

And let me be very clear–John never utters any of the ridiculous self-exalting shit you’ll hear from the goddess-and-light crowd.   He’s one of the few you can always count on never to go new-age/inner-peace on you. That, more than anything, is why we need Humanists around.

But–it is our economic system which is fucked.  It’s sustained in place by modern myths of progress and the modern disease of disenchantment, which is why it’s hard for any of us to see the gods and why we’re so spiritually desolate.  If you’re going to argue that anything should change, start there, ’cause you can do all the yoga you want, it won’t stop the rape of the planet until you change the conditions of humanity.

Capitalism didn’t start when people stopped loving the land.  It started when people were pushed off the land, forced off The Commons into factories to wage their time money.  The poor didn’t stop revering the forests; they were pushed out of them.  Now they’re crammed in cities where they never even see the stars, let alone the wild.

Likewise, the machines fueled by coal which has warmed our planet–those weren’t for the poor.   Those machines were built for the rich to make more money off of the labor of the poor.  The poor tried to destroy those machines with the help of Ludd; now we’re thumbing our smartphones and driving our cars and pretending we’re not complicit in all this death.

Give Everything To Be Poor

But for all of this, John’s right.  A shift of consciousness is required, just one bigger than he suspects.

What’s required is one on par with what happened to St. Francis of Assisi when he first found the divine.  That mad joy-struck monk not only gave away everything he owned, he also gave away almost everything his father owned, selling his merchant-families wares at a loss in order to rebuild a shrine.  And then he never sought money or wages again, instead eating only what was given to him and preferring rotted scraps over hot meals.

Again, you know who isn’t warming the earth and melting the glaciers and exploiting children in factories?  The fucking poor.  The ‘humility’ some priests talk about, the ‘community’ others urge, the ‘love of the goddess’ yet more suggest that we need is true, they just don’t know how terrifyingly true.

How much do you really need?  How much of this shit is worth destroying the planet?  Is your nice condo in the city worth the death of black men?  Your tech job–is it worth the rivers of poison in China?  Your car–are you comfortable with your complicity in the destruction of forests and the warming of the earth?  Your organic strawberries–are they worth the near-enslavement of brown people?

I’ve never been comfortable with it.

But, then again, I grew up poor.  Despite all the horrors of my childhood, I’m fucking glad of it, because I know you can survive on nothing.  I also know that the hunger I endured and the coal-soot in the winter and my grandfather’s brain tumor and our open sewer was all only just a taste of what feeds the voracious hunger of Capitalism.

I’m really glad John Halstead suggested this change of consciousness.  And it’s time for the Spirit of Poverty to catch on, because otherwise we’re slaughtering each other, glutted upon the waged-time of those below us, the poisoned rivers and the carnage while telling each other pretty lies.

 

27 responses to The Spirit of Poverty

  1. 

    It’s interesting that you write this now, because part of what you’ve mentioned here plays into something I’ve been thinking of writing for a few weeks…So, stay tuned for that.

    I can’t say I can usefully disagree with your overall points, though.

  2. 
    Vision_From_Afar April 14, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    I dunno if I’d call you a leader, though many follow your words.
    If I had to label you (haha), the picture that comes to mind is a madman with a torch and a hammer running through the city (naked, because of course) searching for a scrap of nature, ready to smash and burn until he finds it. A trailblazer in every sense.

  3. 

    Rhyd, I get that “a hungry man is not a free man.” Preaching spiritual change to a starving person is insulting and stupid. I encountered this first hand when I was a Mormon missionary in northeast Brazil. Giving copies of the Book of Mormon to illiterate and hungry people was ultimately devastating for my faith.

    But that doesn’t mean that that same message was worthless for a different audience. A Christian gospel may help make middle-class Americans become more conscientious of the suffering of the poor, for example. Similarly, if yoga (to borrow your example) causes someone to experience greater compassion for others (not inconceivable), then it can help accomplish your goal for bettering the lives of the poor.

    You want people to sell all they have and follow you into poverty. But without a spiritual transformation, what’s the likelihood of that? St. Francis is a case in point.

    • 

      What was it that Jewish prophet said to the rich man? “Give away everything and follow me?” That’s the sort of Christian gospel few ever will hear, except amongst the liberation theology folks.

      But in this way, Paganism’s emulating American Christianity perfectly, or like the Catholic Church selling indulgences to get the soul right with god/goddess/nature/whatever rather than getting anyone to stop pursuing wealth and comfort.

      And mostly, I think it’s ’cause we’re too terrified to talk about what really needs to change. Even Naomi Klein danced around it when she talked about needing to go back to 1970’s level consumption.

      That’d mean a massive transformation of everyone’s lives, a radical shift in the economy, and a lot of people having to change their personal activities (stop driving, stop using smartphones, stop buying food not grown within 100 miles, etc,) and no one’s gonna want to do that.

      But the poor are already there, and so we must become like the poor.

      For some of us (like myself), it’s not much of a jump. But like that Jesus-guy said (again), it’ll be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for others…

  4. 

    Bruising words, Rhyd. And true. Thank you for this piece.

  5. 

    Growing up we never had much and there were a few times we were on food stamps (the paper kind). I remember one hot summer when my brother, grandmother, and I walked all over our East Dallas neighborhood looking for wild greens to take home and cook because it was either that, or go hungry. We were homeless twice. Thankfully it wasn’t for very long, although it felt like years instead of months, and I know exactly how the homeless are treated because of it. I spent months living of beans and rice because that’s all we had, or could afford, and I know what it’s like to go to bed hungry at night.

    I remember walking miles in the hot Texas summer to go downtown to check the mail hoping for a check that never came and getting heatstroke, and a massive nose bleed, half way there. Even as an adult I never had much. I don’t think I ever once made more that 20-25,000 a year. And now I don’t make anything. I quit work to look after my grandmother since her health isn’t good anymore. To me that’s the most important thing I’ve ever done. To others? Well, most often I get looked at like I’m some weird alien creature that they don’t know what to do with. Even some of my family members, knowing the circumstances that led to my choice, treat me like I’m a lazy, shiftless bum that doesn’t want to work.

    I hear people talk about compassion and family and community and I can’t help but think they are using the words in ways that exclude people like me, because, in my experience, they are.

    I’m not sure if writing all of means or accomplishes anything but I guess it helps to explain when I say I don’t think of you as a leader so much as a comrade.

    • 

      I love it when people who are not caretakers think caretakers are not doing any work–but they won’t give you respite from it, either.

      You have my respect.

      Caretaking of an elderly or invalid relative is damned difficult, no matter how cooperative or pleasant they are. It’s a helluva lot of hard physical labor and personal sacrifice. Sometimes it’s a question of whether the caretaker or the cared-for dies first, as it was with my sister taking care of an ungrateful mystery woman in the body of our mother, for six years at home, never with any respite (I’m about 500 miles away from where they lived with a small child then) or much moral support (aside from what I gave her). Hired help was never steady, and often useless. Finding affordable live-in caregivers was difficult and dicey. Finally, all hell broke loose and my sister couldn’t take care of our mom at home any longer. She found the best nursing home she could find, and our mom lived another four years. Her own sisters were not expecting that their neice would be taking care of Mama that long, not expecting her to live that long after the major stroke she’d had.

  6. 

    Growing up we never had much and there were a few times we were on food stamps (the paper kind). I remember one hot summer when my brother, grandmother, and I walked all over our East Dallas neighborhood looking for wild greens to take home and cook because it was either that, or go hungry. We were homeless twice. Thankfully it wasn’t for very long, although it felt like years instead of months, and I know exactly how the homeless are treated because of it. I spent months living of beans and rice because that’s all we had, or could afford, and I know what it’s like to go to bed hungry at night.

    I remember walking miles in the hot Texas summer to go downtown to check the mail hoping for a check that never came and getting heatstroke, and a massive nose bleed, half way there. Even as an adult I never had much. I don’t think I ever once made more that 20-25,000 a year. And now I don’t make anything. I quit work to look after my grandmother since her health isn’t good anymore. To me that’s the most important thing I’ve ever done. To others? Well, most often I get looked at like I’m some weird alien creature that they don’t know what to do with. Even some of my family members, knowing the circumstances that led to my choice, treat me like I’m a lazy, shiftless bum that doesn’t want to work.

    I hear people talk about compassion and family and community and I can’t help but think they are using the words in ways that exclude people like me, because, in my experience, they are.

    I’m not sure if writing all of means or accomplishes anything but I guess it helps to explain when I say I don’t think of you as a leader so much as a comrade.

  7. 

    I have never experienced true poverty. My family was upper middle class; my grandfather was a civil engineer and my grandmother was a homemaker. There was always enough food and the house was always seventy-one degrees regardless of the season. As an adult, I am less well-off than I was as a child, but I’ve never been in poverty.

    I have known poverty, seen it, breathed it, and hated it. My grandfather, the child of poor farmers (I know its cliché), insisted that I attend public school in a community too small for the schools to be segregated by socio-economic status. My friends lived in houses like the ones you described. When we got old enough for them to care, they stopped inviting me to come over because they were ashamed. The first boy I slept with ate only when the school district provided meals. I had to stop volunteering at a food program that gave food to hungry school kids, because I learned that he was only coming on the days I wasn’t there.

    My sister chose a different life path from my own, she chose to marry into poverty. For a decade, I’ve watched her struggle to heat a home, to feed her children, to make sure that her family is safe. Every month I send her money, her stubborn pride prevents her from accepting my offers to take her and her children into my home. Her husband left long ago.

    I don’t know that it requires that a man experience poverty for himself to hate capitalism. It merely requires that he be willing to open his eyes enough to see what it does to his fellow human beings, to notice the way that it bends and warps our societies and cultures, and to feel the way that it rapes our very souls. The price that capitalism charges the middle class and the rich for the rewards they reap, is that they forget the best part of themselves: their natural empathy for their fellow human beings.

    • 

      some of us remember. Imagination–that you could be there in poverty–fuels compassion and empathy for at least some of us.

  8. 

    I apologize for the second comment, I realized what I left out. I agree with virtually everything that you said and I need to thank you for insights lately, both here and on Gods and Radicals.

  9. 

    Wonderful, very difficult words Rhyd. It’s sadly all-too-true that many in our community look to restrain the passion of those who, like yourself, speak out against the rampant hypocrisies of our age. The relentless softening of words… Very true, and lamentably so.

    Well done you: I know you do not look for thanks, but I give them anyway – thank you.

  10. 

    It seems to me that Marx hoped the proletariat could take over means of production and harness the great productive power of capitalist production (without the explotation inherent in the class system) and thereby increase everyones material well being. Given the fact that CEO’s now earn hundreds of times what a wage slave does, this is still not an impossible goal. We can “spread it around”. I don’t think Marx or Engels thought socialism should mean everyone should live above an open sewer. It kind of sounds like that’s what your suggesting.

  11. 

    My mother seemed to have done well by us on very little in the 60s after she left the abusive sperm donor she was married to. We usually had the basics, but never went on vacations. She made us 2-3 pretty and high quality dresses and a coat a year, the sperm donor’s mother sent us a dress from Sears which could be exchanged for one that fit and flattered.

    When I was at a magnet school (not called that then), I had a classmate who lived in a small trailer, with no phone–in order to keep hidden from her abusive sperm donor. My mother had to have a phone for her seamstress business, with which she supported us, or she would have likely done without. She had no car until after she was widowed of her second husband, a man who had his own Bad Spouse History to undo, when she had just started to take driving lessons.

    I went to a private college on full scholarship the first year, and then there were loans and small wages to supplement. At the school, most students were either full-pay or mostly scholarship-funded. I admit to having envied some of them, but I think my ethics were better. I knew the names of, and was polite to, the daily staff, including the housekeepers.

    When I had enough to pay for cleaning help, I chose single moms. It was a promise I made to the Mother after an abortion, that I would do what I could to help single moms around me. I had that privilege.

    Going to library school was out of the question: no car, no money for tuition & fees, and UCLA , the only accredited MLS program in the area then, was at the opposite end of the county from me, making public transit impossible. I couldn’t afford to move, I’m hopeless at finding new jobs, and tne in 1978, this thing called Prop. 13 passed in CA, ensuring that there would be even fewer jobs for degreed librarians in an already overcrowded market, and the pay would stagnate, if not decline. As it was, the qualifications for a $25K/yr job required 2-3 languages, another master’s aside from the MLS, 5 years increasingly more responsible work, and ability to handle a large budget (well, large to me, small for a decent library).

    The first time I was laid off, I had severance and unemployment, from a job I took to get health & dental, and stuck with that awful place in order to keep it. The second time, neither–nor any savings. I didn’t handle money well, either. I was rescued out of that one.

    I’m married to a reasonably well paid software architect. I have eyes to see need, and I have the ability to help those in poverty, the main one being my sister, whose entire live savings has disappeared through being handicapped by her stroke, and needing board & care, medical care, and daily necessities. SSDI doesn’t even cover her monthly rent, and we haven’t found a rental where she could live, too.

    I donate redundant items, things just sitting there on shelves, and linens & pillows go to human or animal shelters. I’m politically active, as well, aiming for justice, safety nets, clean water, pollinator and food safety, and matters of priceless value.

    I want to be a middle-class exception that becomes the rule. I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t paint roses, don’t blame a minority ethnic group for all my woes, but I do love dogs. Some of you will get the reference.

  12. 

    ‘Capitalism didn’t start when people stopped loving the land. It started when people were pushed off the land, forced off The Commons into factories to wage their time money. The poor didn’t stop revering the forests; they were pushed out of them. Now they’re crammed in cities where they never even see the stars, let alone the wild.’

    This is interesting in the context of what I’m trying to write about industrialisation and desacredization. It wasn’t shifts in consciousness that destroyed alot of my local sacred places. Whilst the shift from paganism to Christianity had the result of shifting the emphasis of the sacredness from a tree or well itself to its spirits it didn’t result in their destruction. However the movement and culverting of rivers led to shattered aquifers, wells running dry. Places many people no doubt loved. Desacredization was forced by capitalism. It’s a result of the commodification of the whole of nature. If paganism is based on the premise all of nature is sacred it is naturally juxtaposed to capitalism. I guess we must all oppose capitalism in our own ways.

    My personal focus has been passing on alternative histories and mythologies in poetry, leading resacredization walks and attempting to create opportunities for poets in the local area at a grass roots level.

    Maybe not too radical in relation to Francis of Assisi or yourself but certainly a turnaround from ‘careers’ as a philosophy lecturer or fantasy novelist!

  13. 

    I grew up dirt poor in Ohio. Had one ticket out; Caltech and MIT wanted me when I was twelve.
    I told them to piss off. I had already made my deal with gods and monsters. There is a price to be paid to remain haunted.
    I remember Point Pleasant like it was tomorrow.

  14. 

    Thank you for your honesty. I’ve seen poverty where I grew up (dying steel town) and it gave me compassion. I have plenty of that. Now that I’m in a relatively good “middle-class” space, I have the luxury to see the systemic mess that created/s it. You’ve helped me see that isn’t enough. I have a lot to think about.

  15. 
    Ragged Feather April 25, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Agree with about all you are saying except “The poor didn’t stop revering the forests”. I am very rural and the poor have been pushed into smaller and smaller and crappier land areas. They might live in a single wide or a double wide. Their land is often a heap of dollar store trash and other garbage. And mixed in are 4 wheelers, motorcycles and pickups with noisy modified mufflers that they will use to tear up any piece of land. And guns, loud and uncaring of who has to listen to their sometimes almost endless banging. And now it seems to be very cool to heave trash out of the truck window. These people do not care or love or consider sacred their land. And if they do have any land and fracking comes along (or whatever a dollar is flashed in their face for) they’ll take it in a second. Of course there are exceptions but I haven’t seen them very often. I have lived in numerous rural places and seen the same pattern over and over, except it’s getting worse. The only forest revering I see is cut it all down for a buck.

    • 

      I know that sort of land. I saw that in Appalachia. As I mentioned, my childhood home had an open sewer (it drained into a creek bed), we had a van on cinder blocks. I didn’t mention the broken washer and broken fridge on the porch, neither of which we could afford to fix or afford to have hauled away.
      Along the ridge were several valleys filled with trash, car parts, more machines, diapers, etc. It was the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen, but it was hard to see it for all the dumping. On my mamaw’s land are several trailers being used to make crystal meth now. And the paper mill is always eager to buy any land someone owns to get at the trees there. Also, near the Hoh rainforest on the Olympic peninsula, you see lots of signs that say “clearcut america.”

      There’s a theory, I think first originated by Eagle Glassheim, that suggests this happens because of “Productive/Producer Identities.” In essence, one’s identity becomes tied not to land but production and when the production is no longer there, there’s an almost hatred of the land. Many of the people (including grandparents) in that area I came from moved for steel, paper, and brick jobs, coming from elsewhere (that ‘social mobility’ everyone’s on about in America). Had no ties to the land except the work; then, the work goes away (so many closed factories up there…), but those people are always waiting for it to return, rather than fully becoming tied to the land. Thus, everything around them is still a commodity (trees, particularly, but also the oil underneath) that can be used to return to their identity as ‘productive’ people–basically, have money to re-enter the market, because it’s all we ever know.

      • 

        At least I haven’t seen a “clearcut america” sign, yet. The Productive/Producer identity sounds very valid to my experience. Thank you for the response and sharing your experiences. I have already related some of your story to three friends.

  16. 

    Not an easy piece to read from a comfortable middle-class thank-mother-nature-i-live-in-europe-where-there’s-still-a-social-safety-net-however-threadbare perspective. Thanks for the raw honesty.

  17. 

    Thank you, Rhyd. I’ve been reading a lot of people and gone to a couple of programs (weekends basically) for “changing the earth” by well-intentioned people in my area. I have the same reaction as you do. My income for now is slightly below yours, but way below most of my friends, and I have relatives who have way more than that. I do wish I could kindly (you succeed in doing it angrily) tell them that until they stop living high consumption lifestyles, nothing about their “earth consciousness” is going to change anything. Thank you again. I grew up with two parents who had been poor during the Great Depression – my dad was a bum for 6 years. My husband’s goal was to die with Gandhi’s level of possessions – he had a little more than that. But most nice “alternative spirituality” people are not ready for that yet. They just don’t get it.

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