Rugged Individualism And Its Impact On Our Communities

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The pandemic has exposed a serious problem in our culture, and I have no suggestions on how to solve it. I honestly wish I did. It’s baked into the system, our laws, and how we function as a society. And that problem is rugged, toxic individualism and its marriage with unbridled capitalism.

I firmly believe it’s tied in with toxic Christianity and all of its problems but that doesn’t provide any additional insights beyond “all of these problems are toxic and are creating one big, toxic stew.” We’re in a pandemic where “every person for themselves” has been pushed on us literally to death and at the expense of the chronically ill and disabled. It’s created a society of people who actively hate the poor, the unhoused, the disabled, and any and all marginalized communities. After all, if any problems one has is strictly theirs to deal with, why help them in any way? A society of individuals isn’t a healthy society and can’t survive for very long, and will indeed (and has already) leave a trail of dead people in its wake.

It gets worse when rugged individualism is weaponized by bigoted, even hateful people with agendas and supported by religious beliefs. After all, anything bad that happens to you must be your fault; there must be something spiritually wrong with you. Or in occult communities? It must be that you aren’t an effective witch/magician/occultist. This gets into prosperity gospel, toxic positivity, and the notion that only “good people” are healthy and wealthy. The idea that “everything happens for a reason” is bunk, and anyone who has dealt with any sort of trauma knows it. 

I can also fully comprehend why such a philosophy can be seductive. After all, people like to feel in control over their lives. If they chose such-and-such circumstance before they were even born, they can feel that control. Life becomes less scary in their minds, easier to deal with. But the reality is that terrible things often happen to good people with very little reason, and when that happens it can make people question their faith in an all-knowing, all-seeing entity or entities that supposedly cares about them and their choices in life. It can also create the illusion that if we have that much control, then we don’t need to care about other people. They should be on their own, or obviously they aren’t doing the right things in their lives.

After all, why help out others if they can simply just pray harder, think positive thoughts, and they would be totally fine? And anything else is just something they somehow brought on themselves.

Society can’t and doesn’t work that way. We evolved as humans to work collaboratively; it’s how we’ve survived for eons. It should collectively care for those of us who have less regardless of their contributions to society, for the sheer fact that people’s lives fucking matter. Basic needs in order to survive shouldn’t have to be earned. No one should have to fight in order to prove they deserve to live. Healthcare shouldn’t be an industry that turns a profit in a pandemic that’s already cost the United States alone a million lives. Housing shouldn’t be so prohibitively expensive that people are sleeping in tents. Access to clean water (looking at you, Flint) and food shouldn’t be a struggle, either. And people shouldn’t die because they can’t afford insulin. The list goes on, but you can ultimately trace far too many issues to two simple facts: rugged individualism and capitalism are literally killing us.

No healthy society can survive this way, not in the long term. Things are so incredibly broken that I’m honestly shocked that they’re not breaking down faster. Unfortunately these toxic ideals have been passed down from generation to generation and are a source of pride for some people. They got theirs, so why should they have to care about anyone else?

“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.” -Morpheus, The Matrix

It’s extremely messed up that we have to explain to literally anyone that they should care about other people than themselves. It’s also unfortunate that most people don’t know how broken our society, institutions, and systems are until they face any sort of trauma including job loss, housing loss, chronic illness, and/or disability. One would think that a global pandemic would shove that in our faces, but some people are genuinely unaware still of all of the problems. How people’s lives are currently being sacrificed at the altar of “the economy” or as it should better be known as, the ultra rich 1%. How healthcare industries are getting rich off the pandemic, people’s illnesses, and even deaths. People are still fighting to protect this broken system, likely due to the belief that if they just work hard enough, pray often enough, they’ll be a healthy and wealthy billionaire too.

Because that’s the American propaganda/dream/opportunity, right? That supposedly anyone can just “work hard enough” and make it through, and anything else is a criticism of that belief. And how DARE you not love your country and think it’s perfect in every way.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. “Thoughts and prayers” won’t end a pandemic, give people free healthcare so that when they inevitably become sick and/or permanently disabled due to COVID they can afford all of the tests and treatments, end voter suppression, or give us affordable housing. It won’t allow us to continue to work from home to protect ourselves, nor get the most selfish of people to wear a piece of cloth over their faces to protect the lives and well-being of others. It won’t make us rich, give us the ability to afford basic necessities, or guarantee our continued health and well-being. And it certainly won’t give us back our loved ones who have died during this time due to the pandemic.

Is societal collapse immanent? Yes, but not in any way that people would readily expect or identify it. Most people’s risk assessment is terrible; unless there are drastic, overnight changes they don’t see impact or consequences before it happens. One can see this problem when dealing with the climate crisis, for instance. Which is one more thing that we are barely even able to focus on with everything going on. There are just too many things that are endangering us both as a society and as a species, and they’re all piling up on us.

We are all boiling frogs, and the pot is starting to run over. And there aren’t enough people taking the time to prepare and take care of their own because understandably, we are all too traumatized and too overwhelmed with current circumstances to do much of anything further. Even worse, it’s very likely that a good number of the people most likely to see these issues and/or be able to potentially help others are the ones who will be too busy putting on their own oxygen mask to assist.

And I want to take the time to address those people: you are valid. You have to do what you have to do in order to stay afloat, because everything has fucked us over so very, very good. If you are drowning you can’t help others not to drown, and that’s just the sad reality. You are not failing people, people have failed YOU. This entire society has failed you, and I’m so sorry. It’s the not-drowning ones who need to help the drowning. It’s 100% not your fault, and I want you all to know that no matter what anyone else might want tell you.

It’s the perfect storm, we’re all in our respective boats, and some of them are leaking water faster than others. In short if you have rescue boats or lifevests to offer others and are capable of doing so, I’d start now. And if you have any suggestions on where to start to unpack any of this and possibly save others, I welcome them in the comments.

Toxic Christianity, Patriarchy, White Supremacy, Toxic Masculinity And Its Impact On Pagans And Occultists

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I tweeted recently that at some point as a nation, we need to sit down and have a serious chat about toxic Christianity and its relationship to the patriarchy, white supremacy, and toxic masculinity. Screenshot and link below:

Now to the meaty bits (or seitan if you don’t eat meat): what exactly do I mean by toxic Christianity?

Like with the phrase “toxic masculinity“, I’m not saying that all of Christianity is toxic. I’m referring to a very specific flavor of Christianity which IS toxic, and has perpetuated a number of problematic to outright bigoted and hateful behaviors, particularly here in the USA. This especially includes Dominionism, which everyone needs to read up on in order to understand some of the political and religious power struggles here in the United States. It’s also led to a number of people to get involved in lawmaking and try (and sometimes succeed) in passing a number of laws based on them. These laws are actively working towards making the rule of the land be mostly white cis men while taking away the rights of literally anyone else.

We can’t pretend that Christianity is the only place where we’ve had this toxicity, as certainly a number of ancient cultures were patriarchal and in them women had few to no rights. But right now, those cultures are not in a position of power, and neither are we pagans/polytheists/witches/magicians/etc for the most part. While some of us do indeed come from a Christian background–particularly since witches and magicians can pretty much be of any religion–we are still partaking of a lifestyle that is not mainstream and often targeted for abuse.

So where am I going with this, and what can we be done? What do we collectively need to realize in order to withstand the potential threats we face to our rights and well being?

First of all, we are all affected by politics, some of us more than others. And we are all impacted by our upbringing, some of us more so than others. This is a good chunk of why I have urged pagans and polytheists to work on dumping their baggage as too many have come into polytheism–especially reconstructionist and revivalist polytheism–and other branches of paganism dragging their match luggage behind them and letting it color their perspective on the faiths they are attempting to practice. We all need to work on dismantling our pasts and the crap that holds us back, and in dealing with this topic especially so. There’s a lot we have to rethink, and institutionalized sexism, racism, transphobia, and homophobia are among those things. Unfortunately there’s a great deal of religious fervor devoted to the feeding and protecting of those -isms and phobias, and that is part of why the struggle continues in the United States.

More than anything regardless of our respective backgrounds we need to discuss the problem of toxic Christianity, as it’s dooming us all. We have Dominionists in the White House, people making laws not based on science but based on beliefs that focus around misogyny and the control of anyone with a uterus (especially black women), and children in cages in actual concentration camps. Yes, they are concentration camps and yes, I am Jewish. “Never again” is now. America needs to wake up, strengthen the protections and walls between church and state, get the offenders, enablers, and grifters out of their respective offices and take back our government from toxic Christianity and its followers which infiltrated the Republican party.

We need to stop making excuses for the attitudes that enable the behavior to go on. We need to stop pretending that voting won’t solve the problem, and also that voting alone will solve the problem. We must become comfortable with multitasking and with being vigilant long after the danger has past. Our culture, lack of proper regulations, and lack of consequences for those responsible are just a few things that are letting the cancer continue to grow and eventually kill us all. Toxic Christianity and its beliefs prop up white cis men at the expense of literally everyone else while tax exempt churches make large donations to politicians who back up their views.

I know that people are exhausted of the state of the world, especially those who have been fighting the longest and hardest, but I’m talking about the very heart of the issues that allowed America’s current government administration to do all that they are doing, and with the issues that affect us globally it won’t just be Americans who are in trouble, but the rest of the entire planet. Climate change alone has become a huge part of this, and it will literally kill us all if we don’t do something. We have 10-15 years left to be able to do anything about it. Toxic Christianity won’t care because toxic Christianity wants to usher in the end times and bring back Jesus. Toxic Christianity doesn’t think women should have rights let alone vote. Toxic Christianity only likes white people, heterosexuals, and cis men. The rest of us are deemed unworthy, unacceptable, and less than human.

I realize that there are a fair amount of occultists who are Christian, engage in Christian mysticism and Christian derived magical practices (yes, they exist). I’m also painfully aware that most occultists are not engaged in toxic Christianity. However, some are. There are a few fairly famous examples that I could give, particularly in the ceremonial magic communities. Some of you who are Christian mystics, witches, magicians, and occultists are already actively involved in fighting against fascism, white supremacy, and the patriarchy. I salute you and stand by you. We need to stick together and remember our commonalities over our differences. Please continue to use your religious privilege to call out those who continue to act as if religion is synonymous with Christianity and try to make decisions for the rest of us based on those beliefs and ideas. It continues to amaze me that someone like Jesus who challenged the patriarchy, those in positions of power, and his culture in general could possibly have inspired the ideas which these people perpetuate, and the failure falls not on religion but that of humanity.

The rest of us, however, do not come from Christian backgrounds. While most pagans and polytheists were originally Christian or from Christian homes, I was not. I lack religious privilege on a fairly substantial level. I run into monotheists and atheists all of the time who equate religion with Christianity and monotheism in general and use phrases like “Judeo-Christian” when they really just mean Christian. Religion is assumed to be entirely anti-science when my very faith honors deities for whom science and medicine are both sacred. When I don’t run into bigotry against paganism and polytheism, I run into anti-Semitism. Antisemitism stems from toxic Christianity, too–as does Islamophobia. Anti-witchcraft and magic sentiments? Also from toxic Christianity. Anti-science beliefs and ideas surrounding climate change denial, anti-vaxxers, and flat earthers? Same.

And the list goes on.

We don’t need less religion or less Christianity; we need greater protections, more conversation, and the dismantling of the support toxic Christianity has received up to now. The problem lies not with specific religions, genders, or races, but in disproportionate privilege and power. Deconstructing privilege and balancing the scales begins with starting the necessary conversations about concepts such as the Paradox of Tolerance, and why tolerating intolerance needs to stop. We need to challenge ourselves and call on people around us who behave and speak inappropriately as compassionately but as decisively as we can.

Removing toxic Christianity from power both in our culture and in the American government will unfortunately not remove the attitudes and ideas it perpetuated. But it will prevent further harm to those who are among the marginalized and disenfranchised while we continue to try for a better world.