I am a seed

I am a seed who has been sleeping in the ground. I was curled up within myself, huddled against the cold. Then I sprouted, slowly unfurling, sending up a green stem, reaching down with slim roots.

I am a seedling, fragile and tiny. I seek out the fresh air and the warmth of the sun. My roots drink in water and draw in nutrients from the earth.

I am a growing plant, getting stronger each day. I make my green alchemy, turning sunlight into food. I can make delicate perfumed flowers, luring bees and other creatures to my shade.

I am a full, lush plant, deep green and growing fruit. My fruit will grow sweet and heavy and full of seeds. You can take this fruit, eat it. It is my gift, but I just ask one thing.

Put the seeds in the ground. Let them sleep there, huddled in the ground. Until one day…

Anarchism, Libertarianism and Environmentalism

I have a number of friends who are Libertarian and some who call themselves Anarchist. I think that they are participating in a long tradition of distrust and dislike of the government on all levels in American society. And to a certain extent, I get it. Our Federal government is currently deeply dysfunctional. I hate a lot of things our government does. I hate how corporations and rich individuals can essentially buy favorable legislation and legal decisions by making the right campaign contributions. I hate the invasive government surveillance of civilians, especially after the passage of the Patriot Act. I hate the amount of money spent on the military, which exists by definition to cause death and to threaten to cause death. (I support enough military to protect ourselves, but I believe that our country’s military capability far exceeds that goal.)

But as an environmentalist, it appears to me that the government is the only power that can and sometimes does restrain individuals and corporations from completely destroying the environment. This doesn’t negate my other objections, but it does trump them in the question of whether or not we need a strong, centralized and effective government.

I wish I could believe that in a situation without governance, people would act in a way that is not destructive to other humans, animals, and to the environment. A quick glance over recent headlines shows that humans prove that wrong every single day.

In the controversy over the ridiculous claims of Cliven Bundy that he has the right to graze his cattle on government–owned land, the reason his lease was terminated was to protect habitat for an endangered species. This bigoted, heavily-armed individual is destroying a fragile piece of the environment on land he doesn’t own, simply for profit. Not only does he persist, he has a line of supporters cheering him on.

BP recently spilled crude oil into Lake Michigan, not only endangering a natural habitat, but also the water supply for millions of people. There’s been a little coverage, and it’s not clear what, if any repercussions it will have for BP, but they clearly violated Federal and State regulations. Oil spills from pipelines and train cars are alarmingly commonplace, and they can be very damaging, but there is little alarm.

The massive chemical spill in West Virginia is another nightmare scenario. Toxins spilled into the river, contaminating drinking water sources. The danger and inconvenience to people had a little coverage. The environmental destruction involved was not mentioned in anything that I saw, but I must assume it was extensive, and it must have killed fish and plant life.

In these cases, the government is the only advocate that can regulate these activities and punish the violators, specifically the EPA, the National Parks Service and other environmental arms of the government. Complaints and protests by citizens have little effect. Press coverage is patchy depending on the “angle” of the story and how slow the news day is, and there’s rarely much of a public outcry, even in events as large as the BP Gulf oil spill, which impacted the Gulf coast environment dramatically.

Some will call me paternalistic, and maybe even a little misanthropic, but it seems like unrestrained humans would easily pollute, de-foliate, exploit and otherwise destroy every resource we have within weeks without government controls. Air, water and soil would be poisonous. Finite resources would be exhausted. Renewable resources would be overtaxed to the point of no return. No regard would be given for non-human animals, their habitats or their suffering. We would quickly revert to a Mad Max style post-apocalyptical nightmare world, while a few wealthy and highly fortified corners would preserve what little semblance of a tamed nature they could, but only for their pleasure.

Sadly, there are many forces within our society and even within our government that only wish to disable, thwart and de-fund these agencies that protect the environment. I’m not saying these agencies are immune from criticism. They can be mismanaged or wasteful, like any government or private organization. They can be subject to the political favoritism and pressures that are rampant in our system. Violators may not be effectively punished because of their political connections. But none of this is a criticism of the basic mission of the EPA, the Parks Service, or any related entity. Their mission – to protect the environment and natural places, to protect endangered species, to prevent pollution of the air, water and land – is essential.

And let’s be perfectly clear – the free market will never serve these goals. It is driven by self interest and most individuals and corporations perceive only short-term self-interest, without any regard for the long-term implications to the common good. Someone will always want to exploit unique natural places. Someone will always want to get away with some dumping. Someone will always be negligent about proper handling of pollutants because it’s just cheaper that way.

Sadly, this is definitely a case where one bad apple spoils the bunch. A polluter’s smokestack ruins the air for everyone in the vicinity, and if the local people aren’t that business’ customers, then no boycott will ever bring pressure to the business owner to change. Likewise, the practice of fracking uses chemicals that endanger ground water, lakes and rivers in an entire region. It trades the short-term benefit of quickly expended fossil fuel for a risk of long-term destruction of fresh water sources. Pollution often impacts areas far beyond the immediate plot of land where the incidents happen. Lawsuits often just lead small companies into bankruptcy and no one can ever be effectively held responsible for the damage caused. Pollutants like CFC’s and carbon emissions can have cumulative, global effects that are hard to pinpoint back to specific polluters.

The only reason we don’t have widespread use of CFC’s anymore is because of the EPA and similar agencies in other countries. It’s a real tangible victory. No one is talking about the hole in the ozone layer anymore, because the cause of the problem was effectively controlled before it went too far. Regulation can work, and can cause real change.

In past centuries, when we lived in a world with fewer people and less consumerism, the dent humans made in the natural world seemed limited. Certain spots were polluted, certain forests were cut down, but there were still vast stretches of wilderness and seemingly endless oceans. Today, as wild areas grow scarce and even the oceans seem depleted, we need some mechanisms to control the destruction. Government regulation does a very imperfect job of controlling it now, but it still seems to me like the only tool that has any hope of being effective.

Struggling to Make Sense of Racial and Religious Violence

Real Paganism is so rarely covered in the mainstream press, and sadly, when it is, it is usually because someone who has been identified as Pagan has done something controversial or unpleasant. So it begins again. Frazier Glenn Cross, the alleged shooter in this week’s Kansas City murders, has been identified by CNN as an advocate of Odinism, a form of reconstructionist Heathenry which is sometimes associated with white supremacist ideology. I wrote previously about my view on Racial and Ethnic openness in modern paganism and rejecting the racism and ethnic exclusion in some of the corners of our community.

The shooting was apparently targeting Jewish identified institutions, although the 3 people killed were actually not Jewish. Cross reportedly said (yelled, even) such things as “Heil Hitler” upon his arrest, and he seems to have a long history of anti-Semitic and white supremacist activity.

A CNN religion blog quotes from an autobiography written by Cross in 1999 in which he advocates Odinism. It’s unclear to me if Cross still has these beliefs. Other internet sources have called him Christian and Atheist. Whether or not Cross is currently an adherent of Odinism, it is clear that many white supremacists, including white nationalist gangs in prisons and various other racist groups, have adopted a kind of Heathenry or Odinism.

The Wild Hunt blog has some good coverage here of the initial reactions from some members of the Heathen community.

There’s a very informative panel on Thorn Coyle’s podcast about the tactics and psychological tricks sometimes used by these groups to bring Pagan-curious people into their fold. Chose Podcast #67 here.

I am not an adherent of any Norse practices, although I enjoy Norse mythology and learning about the pre-Christian religious traditions of Scandinavia, Germany and the Anglo-Saxons. I have friends who venerate Norse gods and goddess in their religious practice.

I don’t believe in or experience the idea that deities discriminate based on race or ethnicity. I am primarily influenced by the multi-cultural Religio Romana (which Cross specifically condemns as decadent).

I have a hard time putting myself into the mindset of someone like Cross, but his targeting of Jewish institutions is particularly nonsensical is for the racialist Heathenry agenda. In a twist of reasoning that tries to answer accusations of racism, racialist Heathens often say that the old religion of Northern Europe is for those of Northern European descent and that others should follow the religion of their own ancestors. By this logic, they claim to be preserving cultural diversity and preserving the unique cultural flavor of each tradition. It is a “separate, but equal” argument, which is deeply problematic in our eclectic and dynamic society.

But what’s interesting is that Judaism, particularly in its Orthodox forms, follows a similar thought pattern in a way. Judaism is primarily aimed at the descendents of adherents to Judaism. Converts are rare and not sought within most Jewish communities. Unlike Christianity and Islam, there is no push to proselytize or spread their religion. Jews quite specifically do what the racialist Heathens claim that they want non-Heathens to do – they follow their own path without trying to impose it on others. They “stick to their own kind”. So what could the logic possibly be for an Odinist to target Jewish institutions with violence?

But why do I even try to apply reason to the thinking of someone whose actions show that they are beyond reason? Why try to find a justification for actions which seem borne out of irrational hatred? I think we can all agree that this is a tragic incident for both the actual and intended targets. Only an unbalanced and disconnected mind could come to the conclusions and take the actions of a man like Cross.